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May 29, 2012

Horse Show Judges

Whether the year is 1953 or 2012, the issue of finding and keeping good judges to officiate at horse shows is still a topic of discussion. Photo by Molly Sorge.

Oct. 9, 1953

The issue of judging at horse shows was as much a topic of discussion in 1953 as it is today.

The horse show judging situation is now (as it has been for years) like Mark Twain’s observation about the weather—everybody complains about it, but no one seems to do anything about it. As compared with decisions in other sports the awards in horse shows are, of course, at a disadvantage. In racing the judges have merely to decide which horse was first past the wire, in football which eleven scored the greatest number of points. In hunter classes, however, the decisions are largely a matter of opinion. Even in jumper classes there is a frequent argument as to whether a judge on the other side of the ring did or did not distinguish between a front and a hind touch.

There is a school of thought which says that exhibitors bring their horses to a show in order to get the judge’s opinion; as long as they get it—which obviously they do—they have no reason to complain. The problem is, of course, not that simple. Exhibitors are entitled to good judging. It is no solution to say that if they don’t like the judge they can stay at home.

We submit that the reason for all this dissatisfaction is the failure of our shows to attract enough judges of sufficiently high caliber. Since it first started licensing judges the American Horse Shows Association has issued cards to an ample number of horseman who are thoroughly qualified. The difficulty is that too small proportion of these ever see the inside of a show ring—at least more than once or twice a year. The inducements to judge are so small that most of them find some excuse when asked to serve.

The responsibility for this failure to attract good judges into the ring rests chiefly with horse show management. It is really amazing how many shows, otherwise excellently run, are careless about judges. This is true even with regard to elementary practices—allowing insufficient time before the show for approaching prospective judges; failure to provide tickets at the gate; too many classes in the course of a day; last minute requests to handle divisions in which the judge is not licensed; luncheon intervals that are too long or too short; failure to provide transportation to and from the show; too much talk by exhibitors at the end of the lead line; failure to protect the judge against intemperate criticism and abuse; last, but not least, the question of expenses. If a judge wishes to bear all his expenses, that is his affair. He should certainly have the opportunity of refusing an offer to pay his expenses. However, if he contributes his time and his judgment, he should not be asked also to contribute to the show’s finances out of his own pocket. An even better way is to offer the judge in advance a flat sum designed to cover the situation.

So much for routine matters. In selecting judges all too many officials fail to take the trouble to inform themselves as to those best qualified to judge at their particular show. The AHSA list, particularly the section indicating the shows at which a given judge officiated the previous year, is tremendously helpful, but it obviously cannot provide all the requisite information. Experienced officials of other shows can be of great help. So can judges unable to officiate because of conflicting engagements. There are a number of state horse show and breeders organizations which are glad to provide assistance.

The best source of information is the exhibitors themselves—not just one or two big stables, but a fair cross section. The Hunter and Jumper Exhibitors Association represents an effort to make this source of information more available. A factor to be considered is the number of other shows in the district at which a given judge has previously agreed to serve—except for the blue ribbons winners exhibitors will obviously not want to show before a man who has placed their horses just a few weeks before.

There would be far fewer complaints about judging if show managements would provide more courses that were more varied and more testing. Such courses would not only help finances through greater attendance, but they would eliminate the poorer performers, thus making the reasons for the judge’s decisions for obvious to exhibitors and spectators. With four small fences and a consequently large number of clean performances—a situation which is all too common—the awards become largely a matter of opinion and therefore the subject of argument, often heated argument.

In the past few months we have printed a number of excellent suggestions as to improving scoring methods. These cannot be of any practical use, however, unless we have judges of sufficiently high caliber to put them into effect—judges who will read the Rule Book and mark their cards properly, as well as render competent and impartial judgment. To induce men and women of this caliber to officiate is the solution of the judging problem.

This article was first published on Oct. 9, 1953, in The Chronicle. It's part of a series celebrating 75 years of Chronicle history.

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